Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yügen - Labirinto d'Acqua (Italy 2006) [AvantProg] @VBR224

This is a brilliant debut album from an Italian band which revolves around guitarist/composer Francesco Zago's and producer Marcello Marinone's singular vision of a fusion of chamber music, symphonic prog and RIO/Avant prog. The name of the band is Japanese; it has no easy translation, but an approximation would be an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep for words (according to the book The Meaning of Tingo). The sleeve contains quotations from Erik Satie (2 of whose compositions are included), Wittgenstein, Umberto Fiori, Liebniz and Jorge Luis Borges, among others. This is a band that is ambitious in scale and scope, and it is to the credit of all concerned that the music more than lives up to the ideals which inform it.

The album starts with a lovely, rippling piano piece by Satie before the first composition proper arrives in the shape of Catacresi. This sets the tone for what is to follow; woodwinds and tuned percussion that recall the austere modernism of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, washes of keyboards that recall Gentle Giant and Genesis and guitar that touches base with Zappa, Frith and Fripp, the whole sounding totally fresh and contemporary. Rather like some of Univers Zero's recent albums, the 14 musicians involved play in different permutations on different pieces, which makes for a highly varied sonic palette but which also means that it doesn't always feel like the work of a band in the traditional sense of the word. The standard of writing, arranging and playing is astonishingly high throughout, and credit must be given to Udi Koorman for his mixing skills. A particular highlight is Corale Metallurgico, a percussion driven piece featuring Dave Kermann of 5UUs fame, with the manic twists and turns of Zappa's 'serious' music and a truly fabulous percussion arrangement. Later on, Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno opens and closes with a synthesiser line that PFM would have been proud to use on one of their early albums, although they would probably not have included the ghostly shakuhachi part which leads into the rather darker middle section of the piece, and the mellotron quartet Skellotron is a wonderful fragment that could be explored further on subsequent recordings.
RIO/Avant prog sometimes distances itself from 70s symphonic prog, although the two genres share some common roots and emerged from the same scene. Yugen draw successfully on both styles in a similar manner to Japanese bands like Koenjihyakkei and Bondage Fruit. This album isn't quite a 5 star masterpiece but it comes close - there will be high expectations for their next recording. Recommended to anybody with a taste for the adventurous, and especially to those who usually find avant prog heavy going. Splendid stuff. (Syzygy - ProGGnosis)01 - Sévére Réprimande02 - Catacresi03 - Omelette Norvegese04 - Corale Metallurgico05 - Danse Cuirassée (Periode Grecque)06 - Brachiologia07 - La Mosca Stregata08 - Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno09 - Skellotron 00310 - Le Rovine Circolari11 - Anastomosi12 - Danze Corazzate13 - Labirinto D'acqua14 - Incubi Concentrici

Paolo Botta
: E-Piano, Mellotron, Organ, Moog

Stephan Brunner
: Bass

Maurizio Fasoli
: Piano

Dave Kerman
: Drums on Track 4

Tommaso Leddi
: Mandolin, Lute

Massimo Mazza
: Vibraphone, Marimba, Glockenspiel

Elia Mariani
: Violin

Guiseppe A. Olivini
: Cembalo, Percussion, Shakuhachi, Theremin

Peter Schmid
: Bassclarinet, Tubax, Subcontrabass Sax, Bass Flute, Taragot

Mattia Signo
: Drums

Marco Sorge
: Clarinet

Markus Stauss
: Sax

Francesco Zago
: Guitars, Keyboards

Diego Donadio
: Drum Arrangements
Udi Koomran: Sounds, Processing, Mix

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kultivator - Barndomens Stigar (1981) + Waiting Paths (2006) (Sweden 2008) [ProgRock] @320

We're always on about '70s prog. Well what about prog in the '80s? Here's a nice example, though it's from the very early in the decade (recorded 1980, released 1981) so it's practically '70s anyway. A rather obscure Swedish outfit called Kultivator, whose sole album Barndomens Stigar (which boasts a b&w engraving on the cover by none other than conceptual artist & experimental musician Leif Elggren) blends the quirky herky jerky of prog complexity with blissful melody, tilting at times towards the twee whilst menacingly muscle-flexing at others. There's sizzling instrumental solo sections, and also much in the way of delightful female vocals (mostly wordless ba-ba-ba's).

Kultivator were a quartet, with lots of Fender Rhodes electric piano, as well as other organ and synth keyboards. Also recorder and/or flute. And on occasional backing vocals, a boy's choir. Yup, very proggy indeed. Armchair prog percussionists are provided with their fair share of air-drumming opportunities, percolating energetically as the drumming here does!
All those keyboards create a moody, slightly jazzistic sound which reminds us a bit of the brilliant Bo Hansson, '70s Swedish prog royalty. There's also a definite Magma influence at work (the thick bass riffing and martial drumming in the middle of "Kara Jord" for instance, leading some to go so far as to label Kultivator a genuine "zeuhl" band), and you'll hear hints of traditional Scandinavian folk music as well. Further reference points: fellow Swedes Samla Mammas Manna and Kebnekajse, also '70s UK prog like Genesis and Gentle Giant, RIO a la Henry Cow, and specifically Canterbury groups like National Health, among others. Guess that's what happens when you make prog in 1980, with a whole previous decade of genius from which to draw inspiration! Although Kultivator, um, certainly cultivated their own unique spin on what came before. We'd also say this is a good one for folks who enjoyed the modern day Swedish prog of Gosta Berlings Saga, reviewed here last year.
This brand-new reissue on the Mellotronen label features three bonus tracks added to the original LP's eight cuts, plus a whole extra bonus disc, called Waiting Paths, featuring four songs recorded by the now-reunited band in 2006. Since they already seemed a bit "out of time" (& we don't mean rhythmically!) even back in '81, it's no surprise that this more recent material sounds like a more modern Kultivator... but not that much more modern. Also included in this nice digipacked reissue, a big booklet with vintage photos and lengthy liner notes.

Barndomens Stigar (1981):
Mellotronen (MELLOCD 024) 2008
01. Hoga Hastar (03:37)
02. Vemod (02:38)
03. Smafolket (05:12)
04. Kara Jord (07:05)
05. Barndomens Stigar (05:13)
06. Grottekvarnen (07:01)
07. Varfol (02:53)
08. Novarest (06:16)
Bonus Tracks:
09. Haxdans (06:36)
10. Tunnelbanan Medley (02:19)
11. Novarest Live (12:23)

Waiting Paths (2006 / bonus CD):
Mellotronen (MELLOCD 025) 2008
01. In The Darkness' Plait (04:39)
02. Bringing Water (05:11)
03. Another Day In Life (03:45)
04. Waiting Paths (07:33)

Stefan Carlsson: bass, bass-pedals
Johan Hedrén: Rhodes, organ, synthesizers
Jonas Linge: guitars, vocals
Ingemo Rylander: vocals, recorders, Rhodes
Johan Svärd: drums, percussion
Hädan sväv boys' choir

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Birds and Buildings - Bantom To Behemoth (USA 2008) [ProgRock] @320

Birds and Buildings is the name of what is arguably the most notable USA's prog surprise for 2008, at least as a particular entity: given the fact that most members come from other interesting prog acts such as Deluge Grander and Cerebus Effect, this surprise of musical excellence and compositional strength shouldn't take us by surprise in an absolute sense. Well, now that I'm through with this pseudo- riddle, let me tell you right away that this "Bantam to Behemoth" album is an amazing exposure of eclectic progressive rock that ranges from Canterbury, space-rock, jazz-fusion, symphonic and avant- prog. All these elements are provided in a series of well defined sonorities linked through a cohesive unity of sounds and atmospheres.
(Cesar Inca - ProGGnosis)

1. Birds Flying Into Buildings (9:13)
2. Terra Fire (3:36)
3. Tunguska (6:33)
4. Caution Congregates and Forms a Storm (10:53)
5. Chronicle of the Invisible River of Stone (9:19)
6. Yucatan 65: The Agitation of the Mass (10:35)
7. Chakra Khan (5:59)
8. Battalion (9:55)
9. Sunken City, Sunny Day (3:19)

Dan Britton / keyboards, guitars, vocals
Malcolm McDuffie / drums
Brian Falkowski / saxophones, flute, clarinet
Brett d'Anon / bass, guitars
Megan Wheatley / vocals (5)

Ratings by outbrain